Anyone who has any knowledge of rehab for an addiction knows that abstinence is the common “solution” to addiction in America today. Addiction in this disease-centered perspective is seen as a lifelong condition, and therefore no amount of drugs or alcohol are allowable in this viewpoint. But what if the research does not support this model? What if, as a culture, we have created a lifelong diagnosis where in reality it does not exist? What if addiction is actually a heavy preference for substances for personal reasons? What if we can change our preferences? What if we allowed for the possibility that drugs do not have power to enslave, but rather, that people believe they have the power to enslave? What if there was a way to be free from “addiction” and also be free from the trappings of “recovery” that keep us tied to our past habits?

All of these questions are important to ask. In the late eighties, two researchers: Mark Scheeren and Jerry Brown, began asking them; and over the past 30 years, the answers we found formed a path to The Freedom Model. Here is what we learned.

Abstinence Works

We begin The Freedom Model for Addictions with the following line:

“Anyone, even those who have a serious drug or alcohol problem, can choose to use moderately, and contrary to popular belief, they can do so successfully.” You would think that based on this one line we are an advocate for moderation. We aren’t. But we’re also not an advocate for abstinence. We do not promote heavy use either. Instead, we support that you learn the facts first, and then make a decision on which path best fits your wants and desires, and which option provides the most benefits for your life. That is what we advocate – personal liberty to choose the best option for you, based on the facts.

To be clear, abstinence is a great choice – but only if the desire to remain abstinent is what you actually want. Otherwise you will feel as if you are depriving yourself of something you truly want, that you believe has value to you. I abstained for many years because I saw it as the happier option when compared to moderating or using heavily. I made that choice to abstain prior to entering treatment. I did not feel deprived, nor did I mentally crave in spite of treatment that was telling me that I would. I simply saw abstinence as the better option for me and therefore abstaining was not hard to do. It won’t be hard for you – if that is what you really want.

Moderation Works Too

The word moderation with respect to substance use is a hot-button term. Not because it is an activity that is inherently controversial, but because the false disease narrative has made it into a heretical option. Moderation, or as we say it – adjusting your level of use – is a great option, but again, only if is that is what you truly want to do. So many people will attempt to moderate, and then fail at it, and say they “can’t moderate.” But this turns out not to be entirely true. Upon further investigation many realize that they do not truly want to moderate, but say they do usually because they believe that’s what they should want. “Can’t moderate” and “don’t want to moderate” are two entirely separate ways of looking at the failed attempt. Usually the failed attempt to moderate is because that’s what others want for them, or they are trying to moderate or mitigate the consequences.

We’ve been told that addiction is an external condition that happens to people. With this myth intact, it is easy to fall for the idea that a failed attempt at moderation is a result of a disease that is out of your control, therefore impossible to achieve and leading directly to disaster. This is a case where myths really do drive behavior and beliefs. Unfortunately if you believe “addiction is a condition that happens to you”, that renders you powerless in resisting temptation of the all powerful substance when triggered, and powerless to stop use once you’ve started, then each attempt to moderate is doomed to fail, thereby reinforcing your belief in the disease even deeper. Therefore if you believe “addiction is a condition that happens to you”, abstinence or heavy use truly are your only two options.

Having only the options of abstinence or active addiction is a cultural trap. It completely ignores the primary factor for use which is personal reasoning for an individual’s use patterns and choices. By seeking out the reasons why you prefer to use substances at the level you use them, and doing so honestly and openly, you can adjust your levels of use to any level you determine is best for you. But you cannot make these adjustments if you believe that the choice is made for you by the drug. What you believe about substances is what drives your patterns of use. If you fear drugs and/or alcohol their supposed power over you, make no mistake – you are living in the mythology of addiction, and in this case abstinence is probably the only option you should choose.

If you are struggling, and you know that all options are reasonable and doable, and that addiction is not a condition or disease, but rather a preference, you can easily unlearn the myths and then openly and easily decide whether abstinence, moderate use, or continued heavy use are what you truly want. And when you know the facts – that addiction is not a disease, is not a disorder, nor is it a condition that happens to you, then any choice in regards to levels of personal use become easy to make.